While some restaurants and foodservice operators shifted to an exclusively off-premises model due to state and local closures to stop the spread of COVID-19, others chose to temporarily shutter their businesses entirely.
As states and municipalities start to slowly lift the COVID-19-related restrictions, many operators may now plan to serve larger numbers of customers, including hosting them in their dining rooms. These operations can’t go from zero to 60 with nothing in between, though. To get running again, their kitchen equipment needs some serious attention.
According to Matthew Gingrich, a technician with the Baltimore branch of service agency EMR Co., the easiest pieces of foodservice equipment to bring back into service are countertop units. Staff should wipe down items like food processors and slicers, and maybe give these units a few drops of lubricant. Otherwise, if these pieces of equipment will turn on with a flip of the switch and they’re ready to work.
These are the exceptions, though. Most large pieces of kitchen equipment need a deep cleaning, starting with units on the cold side. “You want to look at all your refrigeration equipment, your reach-ins, your freezers, your walk-ins, and go through and clean all your condenser coils. Over time they build dust on the coils if they haven't been running or even if they have been running. You want to make sure they're still getting to temperature,” Gingrich says.
The lack of use doesn’t just cause problems for refrigeration. Hot side pieces can develop issues if they sit idle for too long. One particular challenge comes with units that deal with a lot of grease. When these pieces are fired up on a daily basis, the grease stays at least partially liquified. After weeks of no use, though, grease in and on these units can harden. The results can include clogged flues, blocked burners and jammed components.
This problem impacts not just pieces like fryers and flattops, but also pricy hood systems, says Gingrich. “You want to make sure all your belts are tight and not loose and make sure they are not dry-rotted,” he says. “You want to make sure all your bearings are greased. Over time if they are not running it's the same thing like oil in a fryer. It hardens up and can tear up your equipment if you don't regrease them and change your belts.”
Water-using equipment may need some special attention upon reopening as well, Gingrich notes. Not only can water-using units require a deep cleaning, with ice makers needing special attention, their water filtration system may need servicing as well, including new filters. “You want to go through and make sure your filters are at least in date,” Gingrich says. “You want to do that with steamers, ice machines, anything that has water coming in.”
Taken in total, this work may be too time consuming and too complicated for most operators to handle on their own. Depending on the size of the kitchen and the volume of work, performing planned maintenance on an entire kitchen can take a day or more. Gingrich recommends operators call their service agency at least a week in advance to schedule this work.
While that’s an added expense at a time when money may already be tight, the investment can contribute to a smooth restart and help operators get back to doing what they do best as soon as possible.